Every third week, my programme prescribes a reduced training volume (say by 15% or so), to allow the body to recover and prepare for another gradual increase the following week. In such rest weeks I have decided to swap the harder Long Runs (LR with Fast Finish, or LR with speedwork) for easier, steady runs in Bradgate Park and Swithland wood. For those not familiar with Leicestershire, Bradgate Park is a hilly, varied and rather rugged deer park, offering spectacular views over the surrounding countryside. Together with Swithland wood (which lies across the road to the north of the park) it comprises an area of approximately 1000 acres (or 405 hectares or 4,050 στρέμματα for readers in Greece).
I love running there (I used to do it more regularly a few years ago, training for the Lakeland marathon), not only because you can put together beautiful and varied routes (dense woodland, long efforts up to exposed hills, fast, technical descents), but because it is a place where you can really see the seasons change.
It is about 20’-30’ drive from home however, so going for a run there adds another hour or so to the time I’m away; often it is just easier to step out of my front door and go for a few loops round the local villages instead. Which is why I decided to hard-code it in my plan that steady LRs are Bradgate Park days! Besides, as my longest long run from now till the end of the year isn’t expected to exceed 14 miles (22.5km), I can afford the time to drive there and back. That way I’ll get to notice the changing of the seasons as the long summer days that have been so kind to me this year mature into a rusty autumn and eventually a crisp (we hope!) winter.
I went for the first run there under this new regime this Sunday past, and immediately realised the main fault in my plan: Nice, easy, comfortable long plods and Bradgate Park do not mix!
At least the route I had come up with was lovely as I remembered it would be, starting at the car park to the north of Swithland wood, making its way to the north entrance of the park itself and then swinging round to Old John, the folly on top of the highest hill there. It then does two loops, the second ending at the NW corner of the park, after an all too long uphill slug.
But just outside the gate at the end of that slug, starts the descent which is my favourite part of running in the park: a good mile’s worth of a rather technical downhill section, which requires your full attention and makes no excuses for tired legs or any lapses in form or concentration! I’ve always loved running it fast, taking obstacles in my stride, planning each footstrike at a split second’s notice and generally feeling like the runner I am trying very hard to become! This is truly the stuff runporn is made of! You know, all the video clips and photos of fit runners in shiny gear running fast on demanding terrain in beautiful, wild places… be honest, we have all lusted over it and thought – if only for a fleeting moment– “that’ll be me one day, that will…”
Thinking about it now, it puts a nice twist to the whole Sisyphean parallel: a long, slow, sweaty uphill slog to that gate but, rather than the proverbial stone slipping through his hands and crashing back down, it is the runner Sisyphus who lets go of it and bounds downhill free, full of joyful exhilaration! One glorious mile for eleven of hard work…
I’d take that any day!
I apologise for the quality of my photos in this post: measures have been taken, the guilty have been flogged, and normal service will soon resume!